RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin in for my friend Scott Simon, who is home sick today. And I'm pretty sure really sad he does not get to say the following - time now for sports.
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MARTIN: And we're down to the final four in the NFL playoffs. Tomorrow, the Patriots play the Broncos and the Cardinals play the Panthers. Winners go to the Super Bowl. Luckily, neither of those games is taking place in D.C. because they'd be playing on cross-country skis. Here to talk about the games is NPR's Tom Goldman. Hey, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel. And hi, Scott, if you're listening.
MARTIN: I'm know. I'm sure he is. Feel better soon, Scott. OK, so in the first of these two games tomorrow, Tom Brady is going to face off against Peyton Manning for about the kajillionth (ph) time. What's your prediction here?
GOLDMAN: Seventeenth showing between the quarterbacks, to be specific.
GOLDMAN: Sadly probably not going to be much of a showdown. Brady is seemingly ageless at 38. He's as great as ever. Manning, who'll be 40 in two months, is not. He had those neck surgeries a few years ago, and he says since then he hasn't regained the feeling in his fingertips of his throwing hand and his arm strength has really diminished. So he just doesn't scare opposing defenses the way he used to.
MARTIN: But Denver - it's not just about the QBs though, Tom. I mean, they got to this point for a reason, right?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, they did. They are a good football team. Manning can still move them down the field with short passing and directing the running attack. But they've been good this season largely because of defense. And that's why the real matchup in the game tomorrow is Tom Brady versus a 68-year-old guy with a paunch, Wade Phillips, the Broncos defensive coordinator. Sorry, Wade.
Brady has two major weapons back from injury, tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Julian Edelman, the toughest 5-10 guy in the league. When those three play together, they're nearly impossible to stop. They played in nine full games together this season. They won all nine. Brady was on fire in those games. It's up to Wade Phillips to figure out a defense that can stop them or at least slow them down.
MARTIN: OK, so speaking of coaches, we're going to move to the NBA because the Cavaliers fired their head coach, David Blatt. What's going on?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, good question. Halfway through the season, the Cavaliers have the best record in the Eastern conference - 30 wins, 11 losses. In his first one and a half seasons in the NBA, Blatt appeared to have made a successful transition from European basketball, where he won a lot. And at least one prominent NBA voice says the firing doesn't make sense. Dallas head coach, Rick Carlisle, president of the NBA Coaches Association says, quote, "he's embarrassed for our league." But Cleveland general manager David Griffin says under Blatt, the Cavs actually have been a flawed team, lacking connectedness and spirit. Those were the terms he used. Griffin also implied Blatt lacked vision on how to use his players.
Now remember, Rachel, the firing came four days after Golden State, the team that beat the Cavs in last year's finals, pasted Cleveland by 34 in Cleveland. Griffin said that wasn't the final straw, but, you know, certainly it didn't help matters.
MARTIN: But remember that game, Tom - I can't remember who they were playing - but LeBron, like, looked like he was pushing David Blatt on the sidelines of the court. And everyone was like, LeBron, what's the relationship? I mean, this is his team. He had to have given the nod to this.
GOLDMAN: You know, of course, that's the widespread belief, the power of the megastar. But Griffin said he didn't consult James and that James doesn't run the organization. Still, expectations are huge when you coach a team that includes LeBron James. Those expectations are in the lap of assistant coach Tyronn Lue now, who's taking over. He'll have his debut today against Chicago.
MARTIN: In happier coaching news, Golden State. The Warriors are getting their coach back
GOLDMAN: Yeah, Blatt is out. Steve Kerr is back in. Kerr missed the first half of the season because of complications after back surgery. The team did OK in his absence. They went 39 and 4. They won their 40th last night, beating Indiana. I'm happy to report that Kerr's sense of humor is back, too. After Steph Curry of the Warriors made one of his impossibly long range 3-point shots, Kerr turned to assistant Luke Walton and said, that's just good coaching.
MARTIN: (Laughter) They've got a good game coming up, right?
GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It's the first meeting with the San Antonio Spurs who've been quietly putting together a fabulous season as well. They play Monday. Spurs are the best defensive team in the league; Golden State the best offense. Both play beautiful, unselfish basketball with lots of passing. Rachel, I'm going to watch the game with a box of Kleenex because I expect to weep openly at the sheer artistry.
MARTIN: (Laughter) NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.